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Understanding free speech at UNT: no restrictions on speech, caveats for amplification or displays

Understanding free speech at UNT: no restrictions on speech, caveats for amplification or displays

Understanding free speech at UNT: no restrictions on speech, caveats for amplification or displays
April 19
21:53 2018

Free speech at UNT can be a confusing topic as students wonder where demonstrators such as street preachers and student protesters can express themselves. Not all of the rumors surrounding free speech on campus are true. The university’s free speech policy gives conditional rights to expression across campus.

UNT doesn’t have free speech zones

Contrary to popular belief, there are no free speech zones on campus. Free speech activities can take place anywhere on campus on any day of the week from 8 a.m. to 10 p.m.

However, there are areas selected by the university that students can reserve for free speech activities, especially if those activities will require amplified sound or outdoor structures.

The map below illustrates which areas can be reserved for free speech activities, with the red dots signifying areas which can be reserved from 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. or 5 to 10 p.m. and green dots signifying areas which can be reserved from 8 a.m. to 10 p.m.

“The university has merely selected certain areas on campus that can be reserved in advance to guarantee that location for expressive activities,” Dean of Students Maureen McGuinness said. “Areas were chosen as not to disrupt teaching and learning in classrooms.”

One can reserve these areas on the Dean of Students website, although it is only required if amplified sound or an outdoor structure will be used.

UNT has a large board that can be reserved to allow for written expression as paper can be taped to it. The board was created following the October 2016 Black Lives Matter protest at the library mall, when students taped posters to the external Willis Library walls.

Following that protest, a free speech task force made up of students, faculty and staff was created to find a better way for students to express themselves through writing.

“We created a protocol for students to reserve the outdoor structure for written forms of expression,” McGuinness said in an email. “We also designated additional areas for expressive activities using amplified sound.”

The task force dissolved last spring following the completion of its tasks, and there is currently no general task force to oversee free speech at UNT. McGuinness said she would be happy to organize another one should students want to look at that issue.

UNT can place restrictions on free speech

While UNT is a public university where free speech is allowed, in certain instances and circumstances, speech can be restricted.

“The university can prohibit activities that fail to comply with the content-neutral time, place and manner restrictions set out in the university’s free speech policy,” McGuinness said in an email.

McGuinness said law enforcement officers can remove people from campus as needed to enforce the law, keep the peace or protect the safety of others.

UNT can deny reservations for designated free speech areas, but reasons for denials cannot be content-based. They must be due to scheduling conflicts, incomplete forms, safety issues or submissions by organizations not permitted to reserve space on campus under the policy.

The street preachers who came to campus on March 29 and March 30 were on sidewalks next to city streets, where UNT’s free speech policy does not apply.

“They’re very open about it,” information systems sophomore Ashton Davis said about UNT and free speech. “They will let anybody say anything.”

McGuinness said during her time in college, she was able to expand their knowledge, learn from others and challenge ideas through free speech.

“Our right to free speech offers the same concepts at UNT,” she said. “Just because someone is exercising their First Amendment rights does not mean those are the ideals of UNT, but we must afford our community members the rights and protections under the First Amendment.”

Featured Image: Map by Lizzy Spangler

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Lizzy Spangler

Lizzy Spangler

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